Review by Deathspork

Reviewed: 02/14/02 | Updated: 02/14/02

New Castlevania version 4.0! "It's so easy, even I can use it" - some old person

CastleVania. At the very mention of the word I am inclined to nod in reverence. From the original Castlevania on the NES to Castlevania on the N64, the series has yet to disappoint me, and in fact, a number of these games could stand on their own as a contender for the greatest action game ever made. Unlike other top video game franchises, however, Konami always decides to change the formula, never content with resting on their laurels.

The original Castlevania (the NES adaptation of the arcade game Vampire Killer) set the stage, and to this day is one of the most intense experiences to be had on the NES. Castlevania II threw everything out the window, being an adventure game with level building (long before RPGs were the darling of every other gaming geek). While not my particular cup of tea, I have to respect Castlevania III for it’s branching paths, spirit helpers, and it’s return to pure action.

Super Castlevania IV is a superb mix of old and new. What it brings to the table is completely re-worked play mechanics. While the first 3 games played out completely differently, the controls were the same each time. Players were forced to think before they act, as once a jump is made, there is no going back, your character will follow through until he lands or falls into the bottomless pit. Not so in SCIV, here you can change direction at any time during a jump, quite easily.

Consider these circumstances: there is an Evil Bird ® hurling downward toward your head. Bravely, you sling your whip in his general direction, but it just barely misses. What do you do? In any other Castlevania game, you’d have to take your hit like a man. In this game, however, you have an option. Holding down the button after cracking your whip will keep the whip unsheathed. Left to it’s own devices, it will just hang there until you release the button. With a tap of the d-pad, however, you can plop it around in any direction you wish. Now you can smack that bird around and destroy him before he reaches you. This method is more than a little goofy looking, but fun, and it’s useful once in a while.

More importantly, Castlevania IV remains the only game of the series to feature eight-directional whipping, making it much easier to traverse through Transylvania. Other new abilities include jumping onto stairs, swinging from rings with your whip (a common first-generation SNES gimmick), but most significantly of all; Simon has the ability to moonwalk up and down stairs, giving the game a much-needed touch of 80’s soul. Such innovation is only surpassed by ‘Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker’, released at about the same time.

It’s understandable that Konami made these enhancements, since this was a 1991 release, shortly following the release of the SNES. As their first release on the system, I would imagine there was pressure to create a game that showed exactly what the Super NES could do, and what a better way to do it than with the classic Castlevania name. But it would be counter-productive to include the classic Castlevania difficulty while trying to turn more people onto the system. As a result, the cerebral play mechanics that only Castlevania fans can appreciate was substituted with more smoothly flowing gameplay to keep up with the times.

Pedantic ravings aside, SCIV offers up a glossy, incredibly solid experience. It is actually a retelling of what took place in the original Castlevania. You are Simon Belmont (undeniably the best Belmont ever). For centuries, the Belmont family has been the only ones who could stop Count Dracula when he awakens, and you must make your way through Dracula’s big ass castle named “Castlevania” to defeat him and so on and so forth. The game is straightforward with no exploration or differing paths, just like the original Castlevania. These are the only similarities you could draw between the two games.

Simon is now slightly taller, and everything else is built to scale, so now the reach of the whip, when fully powered up, can span almost a third of the screen. Also, he finally gained a sense of fashion and ditched his Tang-dipped orange suit and red outfit with white wading boots for a keen suit of light armor and a headband.

The basic Castlevania elements are all there, but in case you’re new to the series, I’ll explain how it works. You walk along, whipping enemies, making harrowing leaps, and avoiding spikes. You start out with a short leather whip, and with one whip power-up, it becomes a short chain whip, and finally a long chain whip. These and most other items in the game are stored in candles, which are abundant in Castlevania, just whip one and its contents fall to the ground. Stairs are all over the place, which have a way of existing in the background when you want them to, but can be traveled on by pressing up or down. You cannot jump while on the stairs, but you can drop down. You have a health meter that can take quite a few hits before you finally lose a life, and there are infinite continues plus a password system. There is a time limit in place, but it may as well not even be there, given the huge amount of time on the clock.

To aid you on your quest, there are special weapons. In the past, these were used by pressing the attack button and ‘up’ at the same time, but of course with SCIV’s 8 way whip that’s not possible. The old control sequence has been replaced with the ‘R’ button (which is quite tough to get used to). The weapons are all unique and useful in their own ways. There are throwing knives (the weapon you will usually want to avoid), axes, holy water and boomerangs among others. Of course you don’t have infinite usage of these weapons, you have to pay for each toss with hearts which you’ll find in candles, or after you defeat an enemy. Using one specific weapon many times in the same life will trigger a double stone and then a triple stone to fall when you defeat an enemy. These let you throw 2 and 3 weapons at the same time. There is also an icon that makes you invincible to enemies (not to spikes) for a short while, and there are chicken legs and roast beefs, sometimes hidden in the walls, for rejuvenating your health.

Castlevania IV is not just another left-to-right scrolling walk-a-thon. Stages, while staying fairly linear, have quite a span to them and over the course of the game you’ll be traveling from bottom to top, right to left, top to bottom and everywhere in between. As in other games of the series, each level is masterfully created, they don’t just throw things at you and say “here, jump this and then whip these then fight the boss”. Traveling through a level is an experience, with climaxes and down turns. You can rush through it all if you like, but you’ll get much more enjoyment out of your Castlevania games if you take your time, hit every wall, and leave no candle un-whipped.

The game starts out with one of the top music tracks of the entire series, completely outclassing even “Vampire Killer”, a more famous level 1 tune (it’s a “Vampire Killer killer”, if you will). This jump-starts the entire experience to come. The first level warms you up, and then level 2 features an exciting bit (after defeating the end-level boss, oddly enough) where you run down a stream of water, jumping spikes and whipping enemies. The flow of the stream reverses now and again, catching the first-time player off guard. It’s nothing compared to what comes later though.

The immortal level 4 is a tech demo for the Super Nintendo. You walk into one room to find a single platform and a ring above it, spikes along the side. Nothing’s happening. As you stand there in puzzlement, the room begins to rotate. If you’re smart, you realize you need to latch onto the ring and hang there until it stops. The next room is the real kicker, though. While it’s simple, the background rolls back and forth in Mode 7 crafting an amazing visual effect. It’s over almost as soon as you get there, never to be seen again. Too bad. The end-of-level boss, Koranot, looks like it escaped from Yoshi’s Island, with neat albeit grainy scaling effects. At first the giant stone monster takes up the entire screen, and as you whip him, he gets smaller (of course because of the rocks that fall off of him, right towards you).

After the initial 9 stages of the game, you come to stages A and B, far and away the most well crafted and rewarding stages in the game. Each of them pays tribute to the Castlevania series with blazing renditions of classic Castlevania music tracks. Level A, the essential clock tower level, has Bloody Tears, my and many other’s favorite videogame tune of all time. Level B, Dracula’s Keep, gets Vampire Killer, which remains unchanged from Castlevania III’s version, and Castlevania II’s town theme, another personal favorite.

The game crescendos with four killer boss battles, including the newbies Slogra and Gaibon, and the mainstays Death (the Grim Reaper) and Dracula. The pinnacle is the battle with Slogra, but they are all very fun. This is the perfect way to end a game!

My biggest disappointment with the game was in its difficulty. As has already been explained, it’s much easier than most other games in the series (and still at least twice as hard as Symphony of the Night). The game does become noticeably harder in the last 4 levels, but these are still a relative cakewalk for Castlevania vets. Following Castlevania protocol, the game has a second quest, which is somewhat tougher and more up my alley, but still not as hard as many other games in the series on default difficulty. Don’t worry, this is not Yoshi’s Story, it will take you at least 2 days unless you play it non-stop. It’s not extremely easy, but SCIV is completely out of scale in this aspect in the context of the series. Dracula drops chicken legs for you, for crying out loud!

One phrase comes to mind when I think of the musical score, pure sonic alchemy. Besides the heavy hitters, ‘Theme of Simon’ (level 1 music), ‘Bloody Tears’ and ‘Vampire Killer’, each and every track of the game is oozing with quality like only Konami could deliver. Worth mentioning is the ending music, which seems just downright out of place… at first. It’s soft, melodic, orchestral and sounds like it would fit better in one of those nature shows you used to have to watch in school. But oddly, it works. I could never stop thinking about the ending music to Castlevania IV.

The sound effects are as good as ever. I swear, the swoosh of the whip is addictiveness in the form of sound. Enemies sometimes let out a small shrill, a nice detail. When you defeat a boss and collect the orb that drops, you get to hear a short riff from the headlining music track of the game, ‘Theme of Simon’.

Graphically, you can tell Konami tried hard, and it paid off. Sure, the game thoughtlessly throws in effects to show off every now and then, but even the most mundane situations in the game are illustrated quite well. Enemies catch your eye in 16-bit glory; some of them even more detailed than Simon is. The mainstream of SNES games didn’t catch up to SCIV graphically until much later in the life span of the system.

All in all, Super Castlevania IV continues with the legendary quality of the series, and delivers on every level (barring difficulty). I would recommend it to CV fans as a good nostalgic romp, if nothing else, and to CV virgins as a nice introductory game to the Castlevania series. Just one note though, when moving on to Castlevania on the NES, make sure to leave your eight-way whipping at the door.

Graphics: 10
Gameplay: 9
Sound: 10
Replay Value: 8

Overall: 9

One final note, did anyone notice the toad on the box and cover art? What the hell is he doing there? My friends and I got quite a laugh out of it in middle school. Imagine the tag line Konami might have used, “Battle hideous torments such as three-headed vipers, flesh ripping vultures, and small unassuming toads!!”

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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